«It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism», this phrase by the Marxist Fredric Jameson and popularized by Slavoj Žižek is a critique of the dominant capitalist ideology and the failure of the left to build a vision that encourages social change. For the ideology of «capitalist realism,» as defined by Mark Fisher, capitalism is not only the dominant system, it is the only viable one, there are no alternatives to it, and it is impossible to even imagine something different (Capitalist Realism, 2016).
Cultural production is full of examples of apocalyptic futures, from the destruction of the planet to the fall of civilization through all kinds of catastrophes. A good recent example is The Last of Us, the hit television series based on the video game of the same name. In the series, we see civilization fall in a matter of days due to a pandemic that turns most people into zombies. The infection is produced by the Cordyceps fungus, which can control the behavior of insects to reproduce, but it is a mutation, an adaptation generated by higher temperatures in the world, suggesting that it is due to climate change. With this mutation, Cordyceps can now take control of humans. The spread of the fungus is facilitated because it sprouts in a flour factory in Indonesia, a product that is sold around the world as an ingredient in many types of processed foods. Thus, the fungus uses the relocation of production and the international trade routes of the current capitalist civilization to destroy it.
But it is not the end of the world or the end of humanity. The Last of Us shows several possibilities after the collapse of civilization. The first response to the disaster is the rise of a military dictatorship (commanded by the Federal Disaster Response Administration, FEDRA), which maintains walled cities under the pretense of an exterior dominated by zombies, where the inhabitants are actually prisoners. Food is rationed, jobs are provided by the military and paid with vouchers, since the monetary system has collapsed. Orphans are trained as soldiers, there are mafias and permanent curfews, and liberal democracy has been eradicated.
This dictatorship is being fought by certain groups – the Fireflies, for example, who use guerrilla tactics – because they do not constitute a mass revolutionary movement. Outside the cities, the danger is not only the countless zombies. There is also barbarism: looters, fundamentalist religious groups and cannibals. A desert of civilization.
So far, The Last of Us is a vision of what can happen in a post-capitalist world in the face of a natural disaster, a world where capitalism creates its own destruction. We already had a real example of this with COVID-19, whose origin is linked to a food market and its rapid spread through international travelers.
But in all this post-apocalyptic vision, in the midst of barbarism and military dictatorship, The Last of Us offers us the possibility of civilization. During their journey, the protagonists, Joel (played by Pedro Pascal) and Elli (Bella Ramsey), arrive in the town of Jackson, Wyoming. After all the horrors they have experienced, the townspeople provide them with food, clothing and a place to sleep. There are schools, medical services, heat, water and sewer. They also have electricity, produced sustainably by a hydroelectric plant. They have livestock, greenhouses, and a diverse population, including people of many different faiths. There is no ruler in Jackson; the town is governed by a democratically elected council. Everyone works together to watch over, feed, and maintain the place.
In the village, they explain to Joel and Elli, all the means of production and services are shared, everything is collective property. Joel, an ex-military member of the United States, a strongly anti-communist institution, upon hearing the description says: «So, uh, communism.» To which his brother Tommy, who now lives on the town, replies: «Nah, it ain’t like that.» Maria, Tommy’s partner, replies: «It is that. Literally. This is a commune. We’re communists.» Which generates a perplexed reaction from Tommy: he never imagined that communism would be that and save him.
It should be noted that the type of communism it presents is not the type used by China or the USSR at the time, it shows a medium sized commune model, technologized and isolated from the rest of the world – due to the necessity imposed by the barbarism abroad. – It is more akin to utopian notions of hidden cities or civilizations or closed to the outside world. This claim in a popular U.S. series, as a civilizing salvation, is undoubtedly a break with the narrative of «capitalist realism» as well as the typical anti-communist discourses of science fiction. A sample of the thirst to think about alternative futures in these moments of human history. Although in The Last of Us it is only at the end of the world, when everything has collapsed, including capitalism, that it becomes possible to imagine another world. But it is not necessary that millions die to build one, nor to imagine the end of capitalism. This is what we should remember: in the face of the climate crisis created by capitalism, which threatens life as we know it and human civilization as a whole, the solution is collective – the creation of isolated communes is not enough in the face of a problem that requires global coordination. For this reason, it is necessary to eliminate the mechanisms of capitalism that generate these apocalyptic scenarios and block the imagination of a non-capitalist future, that is, they block the idea of communism. If we remain in the ideology of capitalist realism, it will continue to be easier to consider the end of the world as the most viable. Here it is worth recovering and updating the political position promoted by Rosa Luxemburg to avoid the horrors of the First World War: Communism or Barbarism.
The Last of Us imagines a kind of apocalypse that rapidly destroys capitalism, and in doing so manages to imagine a different kind of civilization. In the first episode of The Last of Us, when the apocalypse was already on the news, Joel and his daughter acted as if these were distant events that would not affect them, but in a few hours everything would change. But what if, as Alenka Zupančič points out in her text “The Apocalypse is (Still) Disappointing”, it is possible to state that the apocalypse has already begun, slowly and becoming more and more normalized: climate change, wars, economic crises, and even the resurgence of nuclear annihilation. The news shows this every day. Then it is no longer necessary to imagine the end of the world, because we are already living it. So, the best thing to do is to respond to a tragedy that is already underway, to redouble our efforts, and to actively fight against the status quo, building a different world in the process.
Fisher, Mark (2009). Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books.
Craig Mazin & Neil Druckmann, screenwriters (2023). The Last of Us. HBO.